Sunday, June 3, 2012

When CAN you START TRAINING a Puppy?

When can you start training your puppy?

This is such a common question.  Back in the OLD DAYS when people used correction based training, they would recommend waiting to train a puppy until they were 6 months old.  The reason for this was because the CHOKE chain could do damage to a puppy’s neck.  Well, the TRUTH of the matter is that a CHOKE chain WILL do damage to a dog of any age’s neck, spine, and can cause so many problems!  The other problem with waiting to TRAIN a puppy is that by 6 months of age the puppy could have MANY behavioral problems.  A few of these behavior problems could include jumping up on people, soiling the house, chewing up the furniture, barking for attention or barking at people that pass the house and pulling the owner while on leash.  If these are the only problems the owners are having then they are probably lucky. 
So, when should you start training your puppy?
My suggestion is to find a positive CLICKER trainer and start training your puppy the very day you bring him home.  You can start teaching him right away what is acceptable by REWARDING EVERYTHING the puppy does that you like.  Will the puppy make bad choices? YES!  However, it is the owners responsibility to teach the puppy what is acceptable.  Set your puppy up for success!  
Puppies are learning every moment of every day.  The question is: are they learning appropriate behaviors or inappropriate behaviors?  You can start formal and informal training with a puppy as young as 8 weeks old which is usually about the age that puppies go to their forever homes.  
Formal training is teaching the puppy cues (cues NOT commands) such as a positive interrupter, their name, sit, down, stay, come, and how to follow and pay attention to their new best friend “YOU”.  Teach your puppy what the clicker means by conditioning it.  Then check for understanding when the puppy is slightly distracted.  When you start clicker training with a puppy, you are teaching the puppy HOW to LEARN.  Train your puppy to look at you when you make an interrupter noise (I use a kissy noise).  Condition a kissy nose the same way you would condition the clicker (see the attached video called: Clicker Basics).  Kissy noise, then give a treat.  Repeat Repeat Repeat!  Then wait until your puppy is slightly distracted and make the kissy noise.  If your puppy looks at you, click (capturing his attention of looking at you), then give him a treat (of REAL meat or cheese).  Later down the road this can help you interrupt an unacceptable behavior in a way that is NOT threatening, punishing, or forceful in anyway shape or form.  Capture the behaviors that your puppy does naturally.  When your puppy sits, click and toss him a treat and wait for him to sit again.  Repeat Repeat Repeat.  Once the light bulb goes on, the puppy will realize that he made you click and got rewarded for sitting.  Next, you will put it on a verbal cue, but only do this when he is repeating the behavior of sitting multiple times without you asking.  To put a behavior on a verbal cue, say the cue before the dog does the behavior, then click and treat when the pup does the behavior.  Only say the cue if you would bet $100 that he is going to sit anyway.  In no time you will have a YOUNG puppy sitting and downing.  Train your puppy to give you attention without asking or nagging your puppy.  To do this wait until your puppy looks at you, and when he looks at you click and toss a treat.  When he looks at you again, click and toss another treat.  You can put it on a cue if you want, but eventually your puppy will know that he can get amazing things just for looking at you.  Sure you can use other methods such as luring, but I have found that TRAINING goes so much faster when the puppy learns the CORRECT behavior ALL ON HIS OWN.  
Informal training is teaching the dog the rules of the house and how to behave in his new environment.  To me informal training is the most important training of all...  If you just make the excuse, “he is just a puppy and doing puppy things” then your puppy IS going to learn unacceptable behaviors.  
The KEY is to set the puppy up to succeed.  How do you do that?  Well, you MANAGE your puppy.  You WATCH him 100% when he is out and about with you.  Put him on a harness and leash when he is in the house, so that he has only a few choices.  He can choose to wander a few feet away which will not earn him a reward, or he can come in close to your side which WILL earn him a reward.  If you have him on leash and you are watching TV, you can REWARD him when he calmly lays at your feet.  If you have him on leash, he can’t run off and potty behind a chair because you will be watching him and looking for signs that he needs to go potty.  When you see the sign you can take him outside to his spot and when he goes potty, you can REWARD him with a treat, a ton of verbal praise, and or a fun game of tug.  I like to explain it as if your puppy is a child that has not yet been potty trained.  You would not let your child run around the house without a diaper on, so don’t let your dog run around the house unsupervised.  This is TRAINING, you are constantly watching your puppy and REWARDING all of his wonderful decisions.  If you do not reward the good STUFF your puppy is doing, then he WILL find things to do that gets your attention.  This is what I call, “environmental learning”.  The puppy learns that when he is barking, you yell and pay attention to him.  So, he just learned a behavior that you really did not want him to learn.  Why NOT just be PROACTIVE and reward the puppy when he is quiet and behaving how you would like him to.  We often do not think about rewarding a QUIET puppy, but we should!  Behaviors that are rewarded tend to be repeated often.  So, if you reward the barking by yelling or paying attention to him when he barks, then you have just rewarded that behavior.  Negative attention is attention.  If you reward the quiet puppy at your side, then your puppy will learn to be quiet and hang out with you at your side.
Twix with an appropriate chew bone at 11 weeks old.
Twix learning to chill out on a dog bed outside.
Twix at 8 weeks before I brought him home to live with me.
Reward the good behaviors your puppy does, before he learns fun things to do on his own.  Reward your puppy when he is hanging out in the back yard by giving him an appropriate thing to chew on or a fun acceptable puzzle toy to play with.  If you just leave your puppy in the yard, he will find something fun to do!  Usually his idea of fun does not always match your idea of fun.  Tearing up the patio furniture is great fun for a puppy as well as digging big holes in the yard.  
Manage behaviors that you do not have time to train.  For example: A puppy might love to get into the dirty laundry.  Well, instead of punishing him for doing that, which let’s be honest, he did not really know any better.  He just knows that that dirty laundry smells really wonderful to him.  Personally, I feel that it is the owners fault for allowing the puppy access to the laundry in the first place.  However, to manage the puppy and prevent him from being able to practice the unwanted behavior is simple.  COVER THE LAUNDRY with a lid or DO NOT ALLOW the puppy in the room that the laundry is in.  Problem managed!  If your puppy likes to chew on shoes, DO NOT LEAVE OUT YOUR SHOES!  A puppy just knows that the shoes smell and taste really good.  He has no idea that you paid hundreds of dollars for those shoes or that they are your favorite shoes.  Again, it is your fault!  MANAGE the behavior by PREVENTING the puppy from having access to those off limit items. 
TRAIN your puppy the MOMENT you bring him home!  Give your puppy acceptable things to do, play fun games with him, teach him his name, teach him to find you, and teach him to follow you, which are all FUN games for a puppy!  TRAIN your puppy to do what you want him to do instead of PUNISHING him for doing what you do not want him to do.  The bottom line, DO NOT WAIT ONE MOMENT TO TRAIN YOUR PUPPY!  Learning is on going and ALWAYS happening.  So, from the very moment you bring your puppy home, start working with him and teaching him how to be a part of your family! 
By, Pamela Johnson

Here are a few videos that can help you with your puppy.
If you would like to learn more fun games to teach your dog to come when called every time you call him, check out my website at and go to my products page.  I sell a DVD that has tons of games, advice, training tips, and step by step directions of how to play each game.  The DVD is called Play-N-Train Recalls
I also sell a DVD on training a dog to have a ROCK SOLID STAY, LOOSE LEASH WALKING, and have multiple ebooks on training a dog to do tricks on my website at   
Puppies can also learn tricks! Puppies are sponges and can learn anything that you would like to teach them. 

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  1. I am so bummed that my pretty pictures of Twix as a puppy are not showing up! :(

  2. Great article Pam! I've added your blog and website/youtube information to the dog training resources tab on my blog! Thanks for all of the great content you put out!

    1. Thank you Kirby! I appreciate your comment! Have a great evening! Pam